New year, new OC for Lions

The Detroit Lions have started off 2019 with a headline. The team announced on Tuesday that it will not retain offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The decision is reported to be mutual.

Ask a faithful Lions fan what they’ll miss most about Cooter’s absence. They will probably tell you they’ll miss hearing his funny name on the broadcast. That’s about it.

The Lions (6-10) wrapped up perhaps their worst offensive season in the Matthew Stafford era ironically with a 31-0 rout of the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. Check out the end-of-season raw offensive numbers below (NFL rank).

Total yards: 5,236 (24th)

Rushing yards: 1,660 (23rd)

Passing yards: 3,576 (20th)

Points: 324 (25th)

As you can see, the statistics are not great. The Lions finished in the bottom third of the league nearly across the board. Thanks to the dismal scheme and play calling, Stafford posted his first sub-4,000 passing yards season since 2010, and was held to 21 touchdowns, his lowest mark since 2012.

It wasn’t much of a secret as the losses piled up that the Lions would be looking to head in a new direction on offense. Yet, Lions fans were forced to keep watching Sam Martin punts (beautiful as they may be) and Matt Prater field goals. The only logical reason that Cooter survived the season’s entirety is that the Lions weren’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until week 15.

The road wasn’t always so bumpy for Cooter. Following a 1-6 start to the 2015 season, the Lions fired then offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Cooter, who was Stafford’s quarterbacks coach at the time, was given an opportunity to fill in at offensive coordinator for the rest of the season. The Lions proceeded to finish with a 7-9 record, including the Lions’ first win over the Packers at Lambeau Field since 1991.

Rightfully so, the Lions were pleased with what they got from Cooter on the back half of the season. Unfortunately, the success proved to be more of a flash in the pan.

In 2016, the Lions finished 9-7 and lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round. Detroit finished 11th in passing yards, but 30th in rushing yards. In 2017, the Lions captured another 9-7 record but with no playoff berth, this time finishing 6th in passing yards, but dead last in rushing yards at 32nd.

The bottom line is, Cooter sustained a high level of production in the passing game for two seasons (2016 and 2017). As the former quarterbacks coach, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise seeing that he spent so much time with Stafford. However, as we know, the passing game is only half of the offensive battle. The ground attack never found its way under Cooter. Sure, you can say the Lions didn’t have competent personnel at the running back position in seasons past, but in a 2018 campaign where Kerryon Johnson reached 100 yards more than once, and Super Bowl-tested LeGarrette Blount provided the power, 1,660 rushing yards isn’t going to cut it. Once Cooter’s saving grace in the passing game took a nosedive, the writing was very much on the wall.

Disappointed fans can’t help but wonder what could have been this season. Matt Patricia’s defense really seemed to take flight as the season progressed, and finished as a top 10 defense in yards allowed. Since acquiring defensive tackle Damon Harrison via trade in week 8, the Lions allowed only 20.2 points per game, which also would have cracked the top ten. Had the Lions gotten more production on the offensive side of the ball, perhaps more victories would have come their way.

And now, the Lions are on the prowl for a new offensive coordinator. Expect the interviewing process to begin in the near future. The Lions will surely look to add a fresh offensive mind to command the young and explosive talent on the roster. The core of Stafford (30 years old), wide receivers Marvin Jones (29) and Kenny Golladay (25), along with running back Kerryon Johnson (21) is expected to remain intact. Paired with the progressing defense, there’s no telling how high the Lions can reach with a new playbook in 2019.